Pressing pause

All the way back in my initial blog post, I spoke of standing at a career crossroads and how it can be one of the most paralyzing feelings one could ever face. Without completely repeating myself, I talked about how I could continue with my legislative work at the cost of my solo practice, or I could go back to my law office and put the legislative work aside for now.

In the half year that I’ve been blogging for Generation J.D., I’ve written about many different topics and have had the time to consider that decision I knew I would have to make. I think it was the post about “The perils of youth for attorneys” that gave me the little nudge I needed to make my decision.

You see, when I’m in Annapolis writing about the potential minimum wage hike or the 2014 gubernatorial election, nobody cares how old I am. The words I put to paper could just as easily be written by an 80-year-old person with a lifetime of political experience. As long as the words are correct and they make a valid argument, it doesn’t matter who the author is.

Half restThat is the primary reason why I’ve decided to hit the pause button on my solo practice and spend more time focusing on my legislative work.

And you know what? The great thing about this decision is that it truly is just a “pause.” It’s not a stop or a reset. I don’t have to go completely back to the drawing board should I want to return to solo practice again in the future. Everything I’ve learned so far about opening my own law office will still be valid down the road. I’m not going to forget all that just because I’m working more in Annapolis now.

In addition, all the contacts I have made over the years aren’t simply going to disappear. Granted, people will change jobs or move away, but that’s to be expected with any career. In fact, since law and politics are so closely entwined, the people I encounter while working in Annapolis could easily prove just as valuable to me as other lawyers or judges if I switch back to focusing on my solo practice.

I hope by doing this that I will not only be able to expand upon the viability of another branch along my career path, but that I will also be able to use it to help prop up the law office, if and when I go back down that path. Starting any kind of business requires a great deal of capital up front—something I did not have when I just passed the bar exam. Having a constant source of income from my legislative work will make it much easier when trying to survive month-to-month until I can build up my client base enough to replace those funds.

I also hope that, by sharing this decision and my reasoning behind it with all of you, you may find yourself better equipped to make that decision if you eventually have to do the same.

So, yes, while I have decided to pause this side of my professional life, know that I am only switching out this game with a similar one; I’m not returning the original. I know that it will be right there on the shelf waiting for me if I ever choose to put it back in. If that happens, like last time I’ll be sure to let you all know.

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the (court)house

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the (court)house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The exhibit binders were sacked on the trial table with care,
In hopes that the jury would soon reappear.

The judge and her clerk, to their chambers they fled,
While visions of case law danced in their heads.
And co-counsel in her suit, and I, in my tie,
Had just settled our brains for an award that was sky high.

DaumierWhen out on in the jury room there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the seat to see what was the matter.
Away to the room, the clerk flew in a flash,
Tore open the door and threw up the sash.

The foreman came forward, with his hair white as snow
Gave the lustre of hope that we would soon be able go.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature note, with an answer I may fear.

The Clerk took the note and moved so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be the verdict.
More rapid than eagles, the jury they came,
And the judge emerged and called out each of their names!

“Now Foreman, Now Juror 2, 3 and 4!
On,Jury 5 and 6 and the alternates galore!
To the top of the jury box! To the top of the wall!
Now hurry to get seated! Hurry you all!”

The Foreman was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

Upon speaking a few words, he went straight to his work,
And read the answers on the verdict sheet, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the jury all rose!

The Judge thanked the jury, and she sprang up from the bench,
And away they all flew out the courtroom then went.
But I heard the Judge exclaim, as her robe disappeared out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Dealing with difficulties during the holidays

It’s the holidays! Time for snow, presents, joy, and the best part of all: helping each other out and appreciating each other. But unfortunately, that’s not always the case. The added stress of the holidays can bring out the worst in people, instead of the best. Whether it is someone at the mall, the mall parking lot, someone at work, or the in-laws, tough situations often arise around the holidays.

It can be extremely frustrating to have to deal with one more thing when your plate is overloaded with shopping, holiday preparations, and an end-of-year crunch time work load. I know that I, for one, can easily become overwhelmed during this time of year. I especially stress myself out by trying to get the PERFECT presents for everyone, but starting on this task a wee bit too close to the deadline. Sometimes, with everything that’s going on this time of year it is hard to have the patience for difficult situations.

George C. Scott as ScroogeSo how do you deal with these difficult situations? I really like a tip from this article which recommends distancing yourself from the outcome of a situation when dealing with a difficult person. Many people, especially lawyers as mostly type-A, do-it-all type of people try to fix everything. Taking a step back and realizing that a difficult situation or person does not have anything to do directly with you helps to make the situation less stressful. The “kill them with kindness” advice is another great tip, but only if you can distance yourself from the outcome and not become upset when a difficult person does not respond in kind. But I think the most important thing to keep in mind is to remember that everyone is dealing with many of the same types of things, and just as stressed as you may be. A little empathy can go a long way.

Sure, there are some Scrooges and Grinches out there. However, I tend to think that most of these situations do not arise out of ill-will. Sometimes, for whatever reason, some people are just not going to make things easy for you. What do you do in these situations? Do you take a step back, or do you do something else? I hope that none of the readers run into these situations this season. Happy Holidays!

A Barrister’s Carol

Act I

[Attorneys are attending a Lexis Nexis presentation in the conference room of a prestigious law firm in Baltimore City.]

Lexis Representative:  Thank you all for attending this presentation, be sure to take a thumb drive. Merry Christmas!

[Senior associate, Gill, leaves meeting, returns to office and shuts the door.]

Gill: [out loud to himself] Lexis representative comes to do a presentation and wishes Merry Christmas? Bah humbug! What’s Christmas time but a push to close transactions before the year’s end.  All sorts of holiday events going on, and I am stuck in the office for long hours.

[Gill approaches his secretary, who is typing furiously at her desk.]

Gill: Ann, I need you to proofread these ten documents, redline all version twos against version threes and send back to me, and this time, make sure you justify every paragraph. I need you to stay late tonight to put exhibits together for a closing tomorrow.  Is that binder done yet?

 Ann [calls husband]: I have to work late again tonight, please get the kids ready for bed. (then, to Gill): are you going to the Baltimore City young lawyers holiday party?  Sounds like it will be nice. They are doing a toy drive also. Should I RSVP yes?

Gill: Are you kidding? Don’t you do my time sheets? Does it seem like I have any free time these days to go hang around with other lawyers? And why would I want to hang around my peers? I’ll go to events where partners will attend. I am not going to benefit from these people. It’s bad enough that I have to forgo billing hours to attend this firm’s lame holiday party- definitely NO.

[It is almost midnight and the firm is near empty. Senior associate is still working at his desk, questioning his choice of pursuing a law degree and resenting anything having to do with holiday festivities.]

Gill: (out loud to himself): Are you serious SDAT?! How can you be down right now? I need to check if this LLC still exists!  He puts his head down on his desk in desperation.

[The lights begin to flicker and the firm’s intercom starts to go off: Giiilllllllll…..Giiilllllll dial extension 2236]

Gill: What? Who is there? What is going on?

[Trembling, he picks up his phone and dials the numbers. While doing so the ghost of Roger Podacter, founding partner of the firm, comes through the door. Gill recognizes him from the picture in the firm’s foyer.]

A ghostly visit Gill: No! How is this possible! This isn’t happening.

Roger: You don’t believe in me? Why do you doubt your senses?

Gill: Because little things affect them. A slight disorder of the stomach… too much Red Bull and too much sugar from all of the donuts I hoarded from the Lexis meeting.

[Roger takes a gavel from his pocket and bangs it on Gill’s desk.]

Gill: What is going on? What is this, some kind of twist on Dickens’ Christmas Carol? Where are your chains? You are remembered for being a giving person, not like a Jacob Marley?

Roger:  Very good, Gill.  You are a smart one. Managing partner is doing a good job with hiring.  I am here not because I am damned, but because I have observed your behavior and want you to avoid making some critical mistakes with your career. You are heading down the wrong path with your attitude.  I am letting you know that you will be visited by three spirits. Expect the first one tomorrow, the second on the next night at the same hour and the third upon the next night at midnight. I know you will be here working anyways.

[Roger vanishes. Gill packs up his belongings and leaves for the night.]

Act II will be published December 23, 2013.

Rules of professional gift-giving

With the holiday season underway, many people are busy packing the stores to find gifts for everyone on their list. Did you know that you can advance (or hurt) your career by having the wrong people on the gift list, or giving the wrong gifts? To help you avoid making any faux pas, follow these tips to keep the season joyful, and paying you back with career dividends the whole year through.

Continue reading

The siren song of form books

Shortly after I opened my own office, the attorney I was sharing the space with asked for some help with one of his cases. Since I had not handled such a case before, I was flummoxed at where to start, so he directed me to the wall of books in his conference room that covered everything from abandoned property to zoning codes.

While looking for the appropriate book, I came across a glorious set of tomes known as “form books,” which I would learn contain everything a lawyer could ask for to help draft documents like pleadings, interrogatories, contracts. All one has to do is fill in the blank with the names of the parties and the specifics of your particular case, and you have one grade-A certified, guaranteed to survive any legal challenge, court document, or so the books promise.

At first, I loved the idea behind these form books. As a new attorney, I was wholly grateful that someone else saw fit to essentially generate a book of Mad Libs to make the drafting of various documents quicker and easier. Now that I’ve got a few years under my belt, however, I can also appreciate the risk that comes with a dependence on form books—a risk I hope to help many of you avoid with this post.

Depend too much on form books, and you could wind up losing some of your creative, persuasive, and analytical writing skills.

SirenSure, form books can help you churn out pleadings like a well-oiled machine, but if that’s all you do, how do you think you are going to fare when your client instructs you to write a demand letter to convince the other side that settlement would be in everyone’s best interests. If you’ve done nothing but fill in the blanks for years, you may not be able to flip on that persuasive writing switch all that easily.

If you want an at-home demonstration, grab a piece of paper and a pen, and try to write down some of this blog post…in cursive. Chances are you haven’t written much in cursive apart from your own signature for several years. Okay, maybe you hand-wrote all those thank-you notes for your wedding gifts or, God forbid, you had to handwrite the essay portion of your bar exam. But that’s about the extent of it. Go ahead and try. I’ll be right here.

So, how difficult was it? Did you find yourself pausing to remember exactly how to draw the shape of the B or to count how many bumps you used in “flummoxed”?

In a way, that’s what it would be like trying to write creatively again if you’ve been earning your living out of form books. That’s why I recommend taking some kind of writing course to keep those skills fresh over the years. If you’re a member of a bar association, they likely offer some kind of CLE writing courses, or if you’re looking outside of law, you could always audit a creative writing class at your local community college. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you might even try blogging for a legal newspaper.

By all means, use form books if it makes your job easier, but don’t become so dependent on them that your other writing skills start to atrophy. After all, people don’t remember a technically accurate complaint; they remember an emotionally powerful closing argument.